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German bomb fuse

German bomb fuse

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German bomb fuse

The fuse on a German bomb.

SC250 bomb

The SC 250 (Sprengbombe Cylindrisch 250) was an air-dropped general purpose high-explosive bomb built by Germany during World War II and used extensively during that period. It could be carried by almost all German bomber aircraft, and was used to notable effect by the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka (Sturzkampfflugzeug or dive-bomber). The bomb's weight was about 250 kg, from which its designation was derived. [1]

It was used in the Eastern Front and many other theatres, and was feared for its destructive power. The SC 250 was one of the most commonly used bombs in World War II and was deployed extensively during the Blitz on London.

First atomic bomb was German .

Post by Himmelssäule » 14 Aug 2005, 19:07

in Germany a lot of people are searching in the "Jonastal" (ex DDR area) for the laboratories under the earth in which the first atomic bomb should have been built.

The story tells, that General Patton was the first not german at this place - but is "day-book" sites over these days are lost.

After this the bomb was brought to the US - that was also the reason why the US put 2 bombs on Japan - testing and comparing - one made in the US built after the german prototype !

Post by Christian Ankerstjerne » 14 Aug 2005, 20:08

That's nonsense - do you have any evidence whatsoever to back it up?

Post by Himmelssäule » 14 Aug 2005, 20:24

Christian Ankerstjerne wrote: That's nonsense - do you have any evidence whatsoever to back it up?

Here some links - I will search for more information and tell you - I thought this forum could tell me news .

Post by K-9 » 14 Aug 2005, 20:55

Post by Christian Ankerstjerne » 14 Aug 2005, 21:43

Common for the links above seem to be, that they are all based on rymors and speculation, without any evidence to back it up.

Post by Himmelssäule » 14 Aug 2005, 22:22

Christian Ankerstjerne wrote: Common for the links above seem to be, that they are all based on rymors and speculation, without any evidence to back it up.

Thats the reason why I was posting here . maybe someone knows which units (SS, wehrmacht, US-army . ) had been in the Jonastal at which time .

Post by ohrdruf » 15 Aug 2005, 19:24

There are a number of declassified documents from West German and DDR archives which indicate the importance of the Ohrdruf site in the last months of the war. In particular, it is beyond doubt that it was to be the last Fuhrer HQ. Allied files on Ohrdruf are closed for a minimum of 100 years, which suggests the importance of the location. Colonel Allen, Patton's adjutant, described the fantastic underground locations in his book "Lucky Forward" published in 1947 - I will quote you the extract if you like - and that is the last we ever hear of them.

According to the DDR documents, it seems clear that some kind of extraordinary explosive substance was tested at Ohrdruf on 4th and 12th March 1945 and that an A9/10 30-metre long rocket was test fired there later that same month. Eye-witness reports about the effects of this explosive do not encourage one to believe that it was "atomic" although popular writers (and publishers!) (and TV documentary makers!) in Germany and elsewhere have recently climbed aboard the "German atomic device" band-waggon.

Patton's 3rd Army took the Ohrdruf region around 7th April 1945. Patton was surprised at the level of resistance he encountered, and at the fact that the Germans had put up veteran SS mountain troops to oppose him. This was 6th SS Division "Nord". These troops were used to gain time to blow up the underground installations at Ohrdruf.

The sudden increase in American weapons-grade uranium stocks in June 1945 has led to speculation that the extra must have come from German arsenals. This is uninformed nonsense. To understand about the American A-bombs one has to bear in mind always the question of the detonation device.

Leading US atomic scientist Oppenheimer had calculated that between 50 kgs and 100 kgs weapons grade uranium was necessary for a Uranium bomb if detonated using the "gun-type trigger". On the other hand, if an efficient "implosion fuse" were invented, a uranium bomb would only need 14 kgs. weapons-grade uranium. The plutonium bomb could only be detonated at all by implosion. No implosion device was invented until June 1945.

At the end of 1944, the United States had enough weapons grade uranium "for three atom bombs" according to military project head Lt-Gen Groves, but would not be able to explode them until "the end of 1945". This means that by the end of 1944 they had about 42 kilos of weapons grade uranium, enough for three U-bombs with an implosion device, or half a bomb with a gun-type device. They also had plutonium, but could not set the bomb off.

The Manhattan Project was a failure until June 1945 in that it could make material for atomic bombs, but lacked the technical ingenuity to set them off.

In June 1945, the Manhattan Project finally came up with an implosion fuse known as the Electronic Bridging Wire. This was the brainchild of American physicist Alvarez in cooperation with Professor Schlicke, a German expert in electronics who had been aboard the captured submarine U-234.

The US now had the means of testing one, and dropping one, plutonium bomb, and of dropping probably three or four Uranium bombs using the new implosion fuse. It will be seen, therefore, that the large "increase in weapons grade uranium stocks" in June 1945 was due entirely to the discovery of the EBW implosion fuse.

Germany's Bomb Problem

Outside Berlin, a building boom hits a snag: unexploded ordnance.

Deep in a pine forest in the German state of Brandenburg, 30 miles south of Berlin, a team of explosives experts gathers around a large rusted cylinder half-buried in the earth. “You’re looking at a French-made, 220-millimeter artillery shell,” says Ralf Kirschnick, a German army veteran who served in Bosnia, Croatia, and Somalia in the 1990s. “The fuse is highly unstable,” he says calmly. “The slightest movement could set it off.”

Though Kirschnick retired from the military a decade ago, he hasn’t lost his appetite for conflict zones. These days, the rangy, balding 45-year-old works for the Kampfmittelbeseitigungsdienst (KMBD), or War Ordnance Disposal Service, a division of the Brandenburg state government focused on digging up and deactivating unexploded bombs, mines, and other World War II–era munitions. This morning, Kirschnick and his team are passing metal detectors over the soft ground outside Wünsdorf, an important site in one of the war’s last major battles. In late April 1945, the Red Army attacked remnants of the Wehrmacht’s Ninth Army and SS battalions, slaughtering tens of thousands of troops with tank, artillery, and small-arms fire before smashing through the German lines. Armaments abandoned in this part of the woods lay undisturbed until last autumn, when the local forestry department called in the KMBD to sweep the area for a new timber-harvesting project. Standing over a pit dug by his team, Kirschnick pointed out the morning’s finds: grenades, a rusted carbine with a gleaming brass-jacketed bullet still in the chamber, a tiny sidearm. The artillery shell, he says, must have been captured from the French army during the First World War and deployed during this desperate last stand near Berlin.

An average of about 2,000 tons of undetonated ordnance are recovered every year in Germany, reminders of a war that concluded before most Germans alive today were born. The explosives include artillery shells left over from battles on the eastern front, bombs that were dropped by British and American planes, and munitions from East German training facilities abandoned by the Russians after reunification. Uncovered thanks to a construction surge fueled by Germany’s strong economy and the continuing flow of capital to the formerly communist East, these long-buried explosives have caused a recent series of headline-making disruptions. In April 2009, a 220-pound Russian bomb was discovered next to the newly renovated Neues Museum in the heart of Berlin, shutting down the city center for hours and keeping Chancellor Angela Merkel out of her apartment until the defusing was complete. During a routine sweep before a dredging project to deepen the Nuthe River in Potsdam last October, a KMBD team uncovered a 550-pound bomb buried in almost two feet of silt. It was the eighth time in four years that unexploded World War II ordnance necessitated a major evacuation in Potsdam.

As the work performed by the KMBD and other bomb-disposal units grows more prominent, it is also growing more dangerous. In the past, most unexploded armaments could be successfully defused and taken to disposal facilities. But as the munitions age and the fuses grow more brittle, the risk of uncontrolled detonations has increased. Last June, a bomb-disposal team in the central German town of Göttingen attempted to cut through the acid fuse of a 1,100-pound bomb discovered during the construction of a sports arena. The bomb exploded, killing three members of the disposal team and critically injuring six more.

Nowhere is the ordnance-cleanup effort more fraught than in Oranienburg, a city just north of Berlin. Once the site of a wartime aircraft plant, an SS arms depot, a railway junction for trains to the eastern front, and a research facility for Hitler’s atomic-bomb program, the town was flattened by 10,000 Allied bombs dropped in 1944 and 1945, according to the KMBD. Almost all of these bombs were equipped with delayed-action detonators. “The Americans and British wanted to make as much difficulty as possible for people trying to clean up and to reconstruct the industry there,” Wilfried Krämer, the director of the KMBD, told me. “The fuses would detonate at all different times.” Indeed, some have yet to go off. Using aerial maps from the British and American military archives, the KMBD has pinpointed and defused 159 unexploded bombs in Oranienburg since 1991. Krämer estimates that another 350 to 400 unexploded bombs still lie buried in the city. “We will be working for another generation,” he says.

In the forest outside Wünsdorf, Kirschnick and the KMBD sappers make a decision: the 220-millimeter French shell is too volatile to be moved, and will have to be blown up where it lies. One man gingerly attaches a Russian-made hand grenade to the shell, then strings a 50-foot-long cable to a radio-controlled detonator. Kirschnick and I climb into a truck and bounce down a muddy forest road to an observation point 1,800 feet away, beyond the kill radius. There, the operation leader, Klaus Schulze, pushes two triggers on the black radio box in his hands. Ten seconds later, the forest resounds with an explosion that shakes the ground and sends me rocking backward. “That’s 170 pounds of TNT going off,” Schulze explains. “It creates a minor earthquake.” Upon returning to the site, we find a six-foot-deep crater surrounded by blackened pine trees. Twisted shards of metal litter the ground. Kirschnick inspects the crater, and pronounces the bomb “totally destroyed.” After selecting a piece of shrapnel to serve as a souvenir of the job, he strides back into the forest to continue his search.

A Forgotten Bomb From WWII Has Ripped a Huge Crater in Central Germany

From the air, the massive crater resembles a pink virus floating against a pool of green.

But from the ground, the destruction is clear and devastating: A 33-foot (10 meter) wide, 13-foot (4 meter) gouge into the earth that began in the 1940s with an Allied sortie and ended Sunday morning in a massive blast in a barley field in central Germany.

No one was hurt in the blast, the German news site Hessenschau reported.

The explosion was thundering and unexpected, leading some residents in Ahlbach farmland to speculate it was an earthquake.

Explosive experts combed the crater, and no bomb elements were initially found, the nearby city of Limburg said in a statement, prompting the theory that it was the work of an asteroid.

However, a second look, with the help of drones, helped build evidence that has pointed to a likely culprit - a 550-pound (250 kilograms) dud of a bomb dropped decades ago that remained buried and untouched until its detonation mechanism eroded with time.

Between 1940 and 1945, Allied bombers dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe. About half of that ordnance fell on German targets, eradicating Nazi war infrastructure and killing more than 400,000 German civilians.

But about 10 percent of bombs dropped over Germany failed to explode, according to Smithsonian Magazine, leaving deadly artifacts in the ground to be found by firefighters, engineers and construction workers so often it has become routine.

The city of Limburg said the bomb probably had a chemical detonator that failed when the bomb was dropped.

Not all bombs explode on impact. Sometimes chemical components were used to delay explosions until a bomb could burrow into the ground to create a bigger crater and cause more damage.

With such bombs used in World War II, gravity helped. The components relied on a north-south orientation after a bomb fell as designed - with an air-powered fin that spun as the bomb descended. That fin drove a metal rod into a glass plate, releasing corrosive acetone that dissolves celluloid discs, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Different thicknesses of discs were used - the thicker the disc, the longer the process took. The acetone eventually dissolved them, triggering a spring that would thrust a firing pin into a detonator.

But often bombs did not land correctly, coming to a rest either sideways or upside down. In those cases, the reaction stalls and the acetone falls away from the discs, delaying the explosion for years or decades as the components decay into dangerous instability.

The crater in Ahlbach. (Armando Babani/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Limburg's railway depot and radio broadcast stations were a prime target for Allied bombers near the end of the war, the release said. Roads around Ahlbach were crucial avenues for German soldiers in retreat, Hessenschau reported.

Unexploded bombs have created endless and deadly work for German bomb technicians. On Monday, two World War II-era bombs were discovered outside Frankfurt, prompting an evacuation of 2,500 people.

Eleven technicians have been killed in the line of duty since 2000, Smithsonian Magazine reported. Three of those deaths came from a 2010 incident in which they dug out from a Göttingen market a 1,000-pound bomb with a delayed fuse.

A construction worker died in Euskirchen in 2012 after he dug into an unexploded bomb.

Germany isn't the only nation dealing with unexploded ordnance.

In Laos, the most heavily bombed country in history per capita, the United States dropped 2 million tons of ordnance over nine years ending in 1973 - equal to a full payload dropped every eight minutes for 24 hours a day, according to the advocacy group Legacies of War.

In Vietnam, a collection of global nonprofit organizations, the Vietnamese government and US groups have focused on removing cluster munition duds and other bombs that have killed 40,000 people.

One Vietnamese official said it would take 300 years to remove every bomb.

That means in Vietnam, and probably in Germany, the last deaths from those wars have not yet been recorded.

2019 © The Washington Post

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.

Bombs Away Under London

A little after first light on Sunday, May 11, 1941, a bomb disposal squad threaded its way through the scarred streets of London toward Victoria Station, one of the city’s main rail terminuses. It was cold and sunny, but the sky was still dark with smoke from the previous night’s raid. Near the station, a policeman briefed the squad: Five bombs had dropped in and around the immediate area, but none had detonated. One was on the station forecourt just outside the Windsor Dive pub, a drinking saloon popular with soldiers. Two bombs had landed inside Victoria Station and two more had come down on the tracks beyond, one on Platform 2 and the other on Platform 10. This pair were Category A1 bombs, meaning they were of top priority and had to be defused immediately.

The section officer divided the bombs among his men, delegating the device on Platform 10 to Sergeant Harry Beckingham and two other Royal Engineers. Beckingham led his team through the station and onto the tracks.

“Digging was always the hairiest part of the job,” Beckingham recalled many years later. “But I just kept to my philosophy that if a bomb went off and I was right on top of it then I wouldn’t know anything about it. It would be a nice quick death.”

The unexploded bomb confronting Beckingham was one of 50,000 that Britain’s Corps of Royal Engineers handled during the course of the war. The job was among the most stressful, and lethal, services in the nation.

Every time the British figured out how to defuse one type of bomb, the Germans developed another. Nearly 400 bomb disposers lost their lives during this deadly game of cat and mouse, and another 200 suffered serious injury. Hundreds of others were medically discharged, their nerves shot to pieces. That stress also occasionally bubbled into plain view: bomb disposers Wilfred Hall and John Gale ended up in court, charged in October 1940 with assaulting a policeman while drunk in London. “We have been working at very high pressure,” their commanding officer told the court. “The men are working in the face of death all the time. I know that my own temper has become somewhat frayed. As soldiers, they are of the best.”

Indeed, the two men (who were released) along with their 10,000 colleagues saved hundreds of lives. As importantly, they ensured the Luftwaffe would fail in its attempt to badly disrupt British life—and allow the country to live up to the phrase that epitomized British fortitude during the harrowing months of the Blitz: “Business as usual.”

Beckingham kneeled above the hole of entry the Victoria Station bomb had created, working out the size of the now-buried device with a tape measure. A hole was, on average, two inches larger than the bomb that had carved it and Beckingham’s tape measure indicated he was on the trail of a bomb weighing 550 pounds. “The first thing we did then was to make arrangements for two railway wagons loaded with ballast to be shunted into place on the lines either side of the hole of entry [to act] as a blast wall,” Beckingham said.

Then he and his men cut the ties on the track and scooped away the ballast from around the hole. Beckingham next turned his attention to the hole itself. The path of a buried bomb varied from job to job, but it was rarely straight. Some bombs— the ones with the semi–armor piercing casing known as Sprengbombe Dickwandig (thick-cased high explosive) penetrated as far down as 60 feet. But those with thinner casings, Sprengbombe Cylindrisch, stopped after an average of 20 feet.

In addition, most bombs dropped from German aircraft hit the ground at an angle of approximately 12 degrees, continued straight down for about 10 feet, when the fins were ripped off, and then jinked sideways or forward, coming to rest as much as 10 feet away from a vertical line through the hole of entry. So the first task for Beckingham and his team was to find the fins, allowing them to identify for certain the bomb’s dimensions.

“We found the fins early on with this one,” Beckingham said, “which confirmed it was a [550-pound] bomb. But what we wouldn’t know until we found the bomb was the type of fuse, and that was what concerned us most.”

The fuses were slotted into a pocket on the side of the bombs and their numbers were printed on the device’s head, indicating whether it was an impact fuse, a delayed-action fuse, or, most ominously, an anti-handling fuse—one set to detonate if moved even slightly.

Two years earlier, Harry Beckingham would not have had the slightest idea what kind of fuse he confronted. In the summer of 1939, he hadn’t even been in the army, let alone a Royal Engineer. At the time there had been no such thing in the British Army as a bomb disposal expert.

In the years leading up to World War II the attitude of the British government toward a potential German bombing campaign was perplexing. Officials and citizens alike could clearly recall the German air raids of World War I, when 5,000 Britons had been killed or wounded by 300 tons of bombs dropped from aircraft and zeppelins. A quarter of a century on, the Luftwaffe was the world’s most sophisticated air force and capable—as it had seemingly demonstrated in its demolition of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War—of laying waste to a city in a frighteningly short space of time.

Yet the first response of the British authorities to this clear threat was to commission a report. Titled “Knockout Blow,” it estimated that any German air attack on Britain would begin with 3,500 tons of ordnance being dropped, followed by 600 tons per day for an unspecified period. This would result in approximately 50 casualties per ton of bombs. In other words, when the assault came, the country could expect 175,000 men, women, and children to be killed or wounded. The Ministry of Health then extrapolated the figures to produce a forecast of 600,000 Britons killed in the first six months of the aerial war, with a further 1,200,000 wounded.

Faced with such an apocalyptic scenario, the government drew up a plan of mass evacuation from the cities to the countryside, then formed the Civil Defence, a volunteer force of fire fighters, ambulance drivers, and air raid wardens. It also published pamphlets, such as the 37-page “The Protection of Your Home Against Air Raids,” in which civilians were advised on how to prepare a “refuge room” in their house where they could shelter from the raids.

But what the British authorities did not do was establish a unit specifically to deal with unexploded bombs, though they must have been aware of this lethal issue. Approximately 30 percent of artillery shells in World War I had failed to explode. Instead, imprecise instructions were issued to air raid wardens about covering the bomb with a few sandbags, then telephoning the police to arrange a convenient time for the bomb’s removal. No one stopped to ask whether a large bomb dropped from several thousand feet that failed to detonate would just lie on the surface, waiting to be scooped up.

It wasn’t until November 1939 that the War Office finally decided to form bomb disposal units, but it took a further six months before the Corps of Royal Engineers was instructed to create 25 Bomb Disposal sections, each one comprising an officer, a sergeant, and 14 sappers (the rank of private in the Royal Engineers, named after the “saps,” or trenches, of past wars).

Harry Beckingham was 19 when war broke out, a young man about to enroll at a university in the north of England to study structural engineering. Instead he joined the Royal Engineers. But when his field company was sent to France a few weeks later he remained in England. “They said I was too young to go to France,” Beckingham said, “so I stayed behind and kicked my heels. In March [1940] we were told we were going to Norway but that never happened. I ended up driving a lorry and delivering rations until one morning our sergeant-major asked if I’d like to go on a course in Sheffield. He didn’t know what the course was but I didn’t really care. I just wanted to do something. When I arrived in Sheffield there were a couple of other sappers and I said to them, ‘What’s all this about?’ And they said, ‘Bomb disposal.’”

Beckingham’s initial introduction to the science of bomb disposal was somewhat rudimentary, with the British military still failing to grasp the complexities of an unexploded bomb. “Bombs would always be lying on the surface, that was the theory,” Beckingham explained.“So we learned how to build a sandbag wall round the bomb, with a hole to crawl through, and how to put a sheet of corrugated iron on top with four more layers of sandbags on top of that. Then we would crawl inside [the wall of sandbags], lay a one-pound charge of gunpowder with fuse, and then detonate it from a safe distance.”

When they weren’t practicing how to defuse conveniently located bombs, Beckingham and his fellow sappers were given a car and instructed to drive around the city familiarizing themselves with the streets, so that when the bombs fell they would know the quickest route to each incident.

By the end of August 1940, the Luftwaffe’s raids on British military installations were intensifying, and the number of unexploded bombs (or UXBs as they had come to be known) awaiting disposal had risen from 20 in June to 1,300 in August. But Beckingham was still in Sheffield waiting to defuse his first live bomb. “We were having the time of our lives,” he recalls. “Driving around Sheffield in this car with no one in control of us, and spending our afternoons in the YMCA playing table tennis.”

On August 24, 1940, a small formation of German bombers lost their way over blacked-out Britain and inadvertently dropped their bombs on London instead of their intended military target. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered reprisals and the next night 81 Royal Air Force bombers attacked Berlin. The raid did little damage, materially or otherwise, but Hitler was incensed and promised vengeance. The British authorities ordered bomb disposal units to London in preparation, and Beckingham’s carefree days came to an abrupt end. He was posted south to 35 Bomb Disposal Section under the command of a young lieutenant called Gosmark (his first name is lost to history).

Gosmark and Beckingham were blissfully ignorant of the hell about to be unleashed from above. Neither, for example, knew the difference between a Number 15 fuse and a Number 17, nor did they know that the Luftwaffe nicknamed their 2,200-pound bomb “Hermann”—in wry honor of their portly commander, Hermann Göring—or that the monstrous 4,000-pound bomb was known as “Satan.”

The inventor of the electric fuse was Herbert Erich Ruehlemann, a brilliant scientist with the German company Rheinmetall whose ambition was to create an alternative to the notoriously unreliable mechanical fuse of World War I. He first started work on his project in the 1920s, and in 1932 conducted a series of highly secretive tests with Russian connivance. (The Treaty of Versailles had forbidden Germany from entering the arms race.) Using 110-pound bombs, Ruehlemann’s goal was to pinpoint the most destructive delay between the moment a bomb hit the ground and its detonation. Day after day, aircraft dropped bombs over the strip of ground 500 miles south of Moscow chosen for the experiments, until Ruehlemann declared himself satisfied that a delay of 0.05 seconds was the most effective fuse.

Ruehlemann’s invention evolved through the 1930s so that by the outbreak of war there were three main types of electric fuse: combined direction action (instantaneous) and short delay long-delay, with a clockwork mechanism and antihandling (booby trap).

The first mass air raid on the British civil population occurred on Saturday, September 7, 1940, when 350 bombers attacked London, killing 900. On October 9, Winston Churchill sent a memo to General Hastings Ismay, his chief military assistant, asking to be updated on the progress of disposing of the unexploded bombs. “I have a sort of feeling that things are easier in this respect,” Churchill wrote. “Let me have a report showing how many have been cast upon us lately, and how many have been handled successfully or remain a nuisance. Is the easement which we feel due to the enemy not throwing them, or to our improved methods of handling?”

Churchill received his answer a few days later in a report that bore out his belief that there were indeed fewer unexploded bombs being reported (2,608 for the week ending September 21 compared to 1,273 for the week ending October 12). The report stated the reasons for the diminution: “When the intensive raiding on London began there were only twelve Bomb Disposal Sections in London. Today there are fifty-five Sections and these are being further increased so that by the end of next week the total will be eighty-eight…. There has also been considerable improvement in the arrangements made by the civil authorities for reporting unexploded bombs and in dealing with dislocation of traffic and communications…. The result is a reduction in the number of false reports by wardens and police, which caused useless journeys for Bomb Disposal parties.”

However, the report contained bad news as well. There were indeed more Bomb Disposal sections operating in the capital but some of these contained men who had been rushed through training. As a consequence there had been a steady increase in the number of Engineers killed in the line of duty, from nine fatalities for the week ending September 21 to 21 deaths for the week ending October 12. The report added that the bomb disposal sections were being continually increased in numbers but that “conditions have also had to be improved to relieve the strain from which all ranks were suffering.”

Following his minimal bomb disposal training in Sheffield, Harry Beckingham was posted to Wanstead in northeast London. He had survived the first few terrifying weeks of the London Blitz, though not without using up one of his nine lives.

“We’d been called out to deal with a bomb in someone’s back garden,” he recalled. “We tried to shift this bomb but couldn’t, even when we put a rope around it and tied it to our lorry. It just wouldn’t budge, so in the end we said, ‘To hell with it. Let’s go home and come back to finish the job in the morning.’ So we threw our picks and shovels in the back of the van and set off home. We hadn’t gone far when it exploded.”

Fate had been kind to Beckingham but not to many of his colleagues. Initially the officer in a Bomb Disposal Section was the only member of the unit permitted to defuse each bomb after his sappers unearthed it. But the sheer number of unexploded bombs soon made that impractical, so sappers also started to defuse. Nevertheless, the average life expectancy of a bomb disposal officer in the first months of the Blitz was 10 weeks. Some died from ignorance, some from error, some from fatigue, and some were just plain unlucky.

In one respect the dead were the lucky ones—at least they no longer had to endure the psychological torment that each UXB unearthed in the minds of its disposer. By the end of 1940 this mental pressure prompted the Royal Engineers to introduce a provision whereby every bomb disposal expert could transfer to another section of the Corps after six months active service. Few men took up the offer, preferring to stay with their Bomb Disposal Unit rather than leave for a “cushy” job elsewhere.

Not that the Germans appreciated such resilience. Soon the Luftwaffe was fitting their bombs with ever more elaborate fuses. When they had begun bombing British targets in June 1940, many of their bombs carried a Number 15 fuse, an impact fuse that could be rendered safe with an instrument called a Crabtree Discharger. The tool had two pins that depressed the spring-loaded plungers on the fuse head, enabling the sappers to remove the fuse. Shortly later, the 25 fuse appeared—a more sensitive variation on the 15 impact fuse— and the first bomb disposer to use the Crabtree Discharger on it was blown to bits. Unaware of what they were up against, the Engineers decided for the time being to tie a length of string to every fuse, unwind it out a couple of hundred yards until they were behind a blast wall, and then tug out the fuse.

Providently, they eventually extracted a dud 25 fuse it was rushed to the Unexploded Bomb Committee at the Ministry of Supply. Their examinations revealed a small screw-headed switch on top of the fuse the setting needed to be moved from position I to II before defusing with the Crabtree Discharger could commence.

Then came another challenge: the Number 17 fuse. Described in the British Army’s official bomb disposal handbook—a 100-page manual published in 1942—as a long-delay clockwork fuse, the 17 had a maximum time setting of 72 hours. It was designed, as the Luftwaffe’s chief of bomb equipment said after the war, to “cause disruption to the enemy’s armaments industry, to transport and to the general public, and would tie up considerable bomb disposal resources.”

Every unexploded bomb with a 17 on its fuse head—all weighing 550 pounds or more due to the fuse’s complexity— was cordoned off while the authorities waited for it to detonate, which could take three days. Residential houses and business premises were evacuated and the disruption, as the Germans hoped, was immense. The British needed to get their hands on an intact 17 fuse to work out how to neutralize it in short, they needed a stroke of luck.

That stroke came one day in August 1940, when Lieutenant Stuart Archer and his bomb disposal section were called to an oil refinery in South Wales to defuse four bombs that had landed among some steel fuel tanks. Amid the smoke and heat from other fuel tanks aflame nearby, Archer and his men dug down to the first bomb. When they reached it, they saw the fuse head was detached from the casing so they could not determine what sort of fuse was inside. Archer decided on another course of action: “I unscrewed the [bomb’s] steel base plate and found that this exposed the explosive. It so happened that the explosive was powdered, so with a trowel, digging away, I got the explosive out and that exposed the fuse pocket…. The fuse pocket was just attached to the bomb case by a little spot weld and that wasn’t a very strong one. So by moving and getting my arm down inside the bomb, I was able to hold the fuse pocket and with brute force and bloody ignorance bang it back and forth until I got the whole thing free.”

Archer had the fuse pocket in his hands, but when he tried to extract the fuse it wouldn’t move. So he picked up a pair of pliers and pulled with all his might. Out came the fuse and on the back end of it a ticking 17 clock. “Lots of people had pulled them out before,” Archer explained, “but they had been blown up, whereas I hadn’t. This was luck, luck, luck.”

The UXB specialists at the Ministry of Supply were beside themselves with glee at Archer’s good fortune (they confirmed later that water had seeped into the pocket, causing the 17 fuse to malfunction). In a matter of weeks the magnetic clock-stopper was born, an unwieldy invention that nonetheless, as bomb disposal officer John Hudson described it, stopped “the clock by applying a magnet, which would draw the steel spindles in the clock up against the bearings and create enough friction for the spring not to be able to turn the cogs.”

But as this apparatus came into service the Luftwaffe sprang another nasty surprise, one that the British bomb disposers had feared—the anti- handling fuse. It bore the number 50 a movement of just a millimeter—the smallest of vibrations, such as those made by a passing bus 100 yards away—would activate its trembler switch. The Germans began to fit the 50 fuse in conjunction with the 17 fuse so that when the magnetic clockstopper was connected to the bomb it ignited the trembler switch and wrought devastation.

Now fully engaged in this explosive battle of chess, the Unexploded Bomb Committee countered the German move with an ingenious device that was the brainchild of Major C. A. J. Martin and Flying Officer John Rowlands: the B.D. (for “Bomb Disposal”) Discharger.

The discharger was a transparent cylindrical container with a rubber tube attachment at one end and a pump at the other. To disarm the 50 fuse, the bomb disposal expert attached the rubber tube to the fusehead and turned the three-way cock counterclockwise as far as it would go. He then filled the cylindrical container with 20 cubic centimeters of a liquid composed of salt, benzol, and alcohol, and gave one full stroke of the pump. It took approximately 25 minutes for the liquid to discharge the bomb, and was effective against all fuse numbers except the clockwork 17. But the B.D. Discharger was crucial in neutralizing the 50 fuse, located in a separate pocket from the 17 fuse, and once that had been done the magnetic clockstopper could be attached.

Ironically, as British expertise in defusing bombs increased, the intensity of the Luftwaffe bombing waned. The German planes raided London every day or night from September 7 to November 3, 1940 then they changed strategy, reducing the frequency but increasing the intensity of raids. They also switched their attention to other British cities, including Coventry, Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, and Plymouth. For the first two months of 1941, the notorious British weather came to the aid of its people, and low clouds prevented all but a handful of small raids. The Bomb Disposal Sections used the time well, defusing the thousands of bombs strewn across the country. There were several ferocious raids on British cities in the spring of 1941, but the last major attack on London came on the night of May 10 in a savage assault that left 1,436 people dead. Thereafter the Luftwaffe began heading east to prepare for the invasion of Russia.

On Sunday, May 11, Harry Beckingham’s luck held firm. The bomb 20 feet under Platform 10 of Victoria Station weighed 550 pounds and had the number 25 on the fuse head—an impact fuse that had failed to discharge presumably because the aircraft that dropped it had been flying too low. Beckingham disposed of it with a B.D. Discharger, and while he waited the 25 minutes for the liquid to neutralize the fuse he remembers climbing out of the hole and joining his comrades for a cup of tea 300 yards away. “We lost no one in our section,” Beckingham reflected. “We were lucky, that’s all I can say. Back in those early days a bomb disposal expert owed more to luck than to skill.”

Originally published in the February 2011 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.

3. The Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1944

Red Army troops fighting on the outskirts of Leningrad. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The siege of Leningrad lasted from Sept. 8 1941 – Jan. 27, 1944. The German army surrounded the city with 725,000 troops and began an on-and-off bombardment and assault of the city which was defended by 930,000 Soviet soldiers.

While the Germans made little advancement into the city, mainly controlling the outskirts, they were effective in starving the city to near death.

While war is indeed hell, the Germans suffered from the typical day-to-day engagements as did the Soviet soldiers. However, the people of the city suffered the worst. Due to the limited amount of supplies, many people ate whatever they could get their hands on, even people.

Once the siege lifted, the Germans suffered 579,985 casualties while the Soviets lost 642,000 during the siege and another 400,000 at evacuations.

German Aerial bomb fuzes

Having recently re-watched and been thoroughly enthralled by the series Danger UXB, and read James Owen's wonderful book on the topic of WWII British BD, I was wondering if there is any way of obtaining any German bomb fuzes, such as the types: 15,17(a), 25, 50, Y.
I imagine they are quite hard to come by these days, but I was contemplating attempting to get a couple and perhaps build a small collection eventually as I find the subject very interesting indeed.
If anyone happens to know of any or can provide links to any on sale online I'd be most grateful.

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By: smirky - 22nd November 2015 at 10:37 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

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By: Southern Air99 - 22nd November 2015 at 10:40 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

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By: Bombgone - 22nd November 2015 at 14:27 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

I too am a big fan of Danger UXB Series. Thanks to Smirky for the link I didn't know about that one. There is also this site loads of photo's and info.

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By: thedawnpatrol - 23rd November 2015 at 19:54 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

I have quite a few, as I have an interest in WW2 Bomb Disposal, I have a 50kg bomb with type 15 fuse, I also have a type 25 and the dreaded type 17 clockwork fuse.
Try looking at ' dugup' website, they have a lot of type 25 fuses for sale.
They also sell a very good copy of the Crabtree defuser.

QUOTE=Southern Air992274804]Having recently re-watched and been thoroughly enthralled by the series Danger UXB, and read James Owen's wonderful book on the topic of WWII British BD, I was wondering if there is any way of obtaining any German bomb fuzes, such as the types: 15,17(a), 25, 50, Y.
I imagine they are quite hard to come by these days, but I was contemplating attempting to get a couple and perhaps build a small collection eventually as I find the subject very interesting indeed.
If anyone happens to know of any or can provide links to any on sale online I'd be most grateful.

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By: Southern Air99 - 23rd November 2015 at 20:31 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

I have quite a few, as I have an interest in WW2 Bomb Disposal, I have a 50kg bomb with type 15 fuse, I also have a type 25 and the dreaded type 17 clockwork fuse.
Try looking at ' dugup' website, they have a lot of type 25 fuses for sale.
They also sell a very good copy of the Crabtree defuser.


QUOTE=Southern Air992274804]Having recently re-watched and been thoroughly enthralled by the series Danger UXB, and read James Owen's wonderful book on the topic of WWII British BD, I was wondering if there is any way of obtaining any German bomb fuzes, such as the types: 15,17(a), 25, 50, Y.
I imagine they are quite hard to come by these days, but I was contemplating attempting to get a couple and perhaps build a small collection eventually as I find the subject very interesting indeed.
If anyone happens to know of any or can provide links to any on sale online I'd be most grateful.



You wouldn't happen to have a link, I've looked on dugup before, didn't now about the type (25)s

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By: thedawnpatrol - 23rd November 2015 at 21:51 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

You wouldn't happen to have a link, I've looked on dugup before, didn't now about the type (25)s[/QUOTE

Actually I just looked on Thier website and no 25 types, but they had a load, give them a ring.

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By: Southern Air99 - 23rd November 2015 at 21:55 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

You wouldn't happen to have a link, I've looked on dugup before, didn't now about the type (25)s[/QUOTE

Actually I just looked on Thier website and no 25 types, but they had a load, give them a ring.


I might just do that.
I saw a (25) on ebay, looked pretty battered and rusted especially on the fuze head. I tried bidding for one before but it reached a crazy price at the last second!

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By: wingsmuseumUK - 24th November 2015 at 09:17 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

I have been collecting this sort of thing for a number of years, that 25b on ebay isn't that bad condition wise, for a mint one you can pay £100-£150, it would also clean up quite well I am sure.

The 50B Y is going to be a hard find, there are only a handful in the hands of collectors and 17's are getting hard to find now. The 25b is the most common fuze but also has an interesting history concerning the Blitz and the Bomb Disposal story, worth a punt on the ebay one. The 15 should be fairly easy to find, I may even have a spare one.

I have a website on my collection which you may find interesting.

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By: Southern Air99 - 24th November 2015 at 15:56 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

I have had a look at your website, very interesting, and informative.
If you possibly have a spare (15) fuze I'd be very interested to find out more about availability?

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By: wingsmuseumUK - 24th November 2015 at 16:19 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

I will have a look for you, I cannot recall how many I had (Some are now displayed in a couple of 50kg cases).

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By: Southern Air99 - 24th November 2015 at 16:23 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

Thanks very much, the cases are fantastic by the way, lucky finds indeed.

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By: wingsmuseumUK - 24th November 2015 at 16:37 Permalink - Edited 1st January 1970 at 01:00

Thank you, I have since got some more including a twin fuze pocket 250kg which is undergoing a repaint. Eventually I will have to expand the museum display!!

They Thought They Found a Nazi Bomb in My Neighbor's Yard

Why so many unexploded weapons lying around London are still dangerous.

London has its own particular charms, and hazards. This Wednesday afternoon, a police officer knocked on the door and politely suggested that I leave the house, as they believed there might be a bomb next door. It was not a terrorist bomb, but what the authorities believed to be a device left over from World War II that my neighbor had unearthed in his backyard.

My first reaction was disbelief. Not because a 75-year-old bomb turned up&mdashit happens here&mdashbut because the German "blitz" on London in 1940-41 was concentrated several miles away. The area where I live was well away from the action. Sure enough, though, I looked on Bomb Sight, which has a detailed interactive map of every bomb recorded in London, and though the red circles cluster less thickly around here, at least one bomb did land right in this street, and there were others close by.

In the noise and confusion of an air raid back then, it was not clear if a bomb had gone off. Some were duds, but many remained unexploded. The reason why is the result of a cat-and-mouse arms race between German bomb engineers and British bomb disposal crews.

At the start of the Blitz, the Germans used bombs with an impact fuse. These were charged as they left the aircraft. The charge tricked into a firing capacitor as the bomb fell so it became live only when it was a safe distance from the aircraft, and detonated via impact switch when the bomb hit the ground. The electrical fuse was regarded as a significant feat of German engineering the Nazis used millions of them all through the war.

If an impact-fused bomb did not go off, though, the electric charge rapidly dissipated and the dud bomb was harmless. Bomb disposal crews could do their job quickly and safely.

But the terror of the German bombing campaign wasn't just about dropping a weapon and watching it blow. The Nazis realized that a delayed-action bomb would cause far more disruption to British life: While an impact bomb made a crater that could be quickly filled in, one with a timer would stop operations at an airfield, dockyard or factory until it went off. So the Germans introduced a new fuse, the "number 17," with a clockwork timer that could be set for any time up to 72 hours after release.

Now every unexploded bomb was a real hazard. Disposal crews carried stethoscopes to listen for the ticking clock of a time delay bomb. The entire area around a UXB (unexploded bomb) needed to be evacuated for three days. It could go off at any time while technicians were attempting to disarm it.

In response to the "number 17", the bomb squads developed a magnetic clock-stopper. This scrunched up the clockwork mechanism together, creating so much friction so the clock stopped. The Germans responded again by adding a second fuse to their bombs. This was the "number 50," an anti-handling device that went off if the bomb was moved a fraction of an inch.

Lt. Stuart Archer revealed the secret of the number 50 when he managed to extract one that had not exploded. It only failed to go off because it had been damaged by water. Archer credited his success to "luck, luck, luck," and the man certainly had a lot of it. He went on to have a successful career in bomb disposal and rose to the rank of Colonel. Incredibly, although he dealt with over two hundred bombs, Archer was not killed on the job. Instead he survived the war, became an architect, and died just this year at the age 100.

Even that was not the end, though. Afterward, the Luftwaffe started dropping bombs without any timer or impact fuse. All they carried was the anti-tamper number 50 fuse. This meant an unexploded bomb was dangerous for more than three days. It could lie in the ground for weeks, months, or even years, ready to go off as soon as it was disturbed. Such bombs were booby-traps aimed at bomb disposal technicians, and a way of putting a large area at risk indefinitely.

This is why German bombs are still dangerous. And a surprising number are turning up in London even now.

Earlier this year, a thousand-pound bomb was discovered in Bermondsey. Police evacuated some 1,200 people from the area, and London's iconic Tower Bridge was briefly closed. The bomb was removed and later safely blown up in a quarry. In August, a five-hundred pound bomb was found in Bethnal Green. More than a hundred people spent the night in a refuge provided by the local council while bomb disposal experts dealt with the device.

And just last week, the market in Spitalfields in Central London was evacuated when a bomb was discovered during building excavations. This can be the most dangerous way of discovering wartime leftovers. A digger driver in Germany was killed last year when he struck an Allied WWII bomb. The blast shattered windows over a wide radius.

Looking out my window, I noticed that the hole my neighbor had been digging was rather close to me, and, remembering that a thousand-pound bomb can produce a crater fifty feet across, I decided to go for a walk when the police bomb disposal team arrived. London's Metropolitan police are the only force in the country to have dedicated explosives team.

The last twist in this tale? My neighbor's bomb was not a bomb at all, the officer later told me. The rusty metal cylinder he had uncovered was part of a hydraulic chair. Why such a piece of scrap would be buried deep in the clay was a mystery. It certainly wasn't dropped by the Luftwaffe, unless the Nazis launched a secret midnight office furniture bombing campaign they didn't tell anyone about.

Of course, "not a bomb" is a far more likely outcome than "a bomb" when a suspicious item gets dug up. But you just can't be too careful in London. Any old buried pipe or metal bucket might just turn out to be a weapon left over from the war. You can't assume that the anti-tamper devices have decayed, or that a clockwork mechanism might not come to life and demolish the street.

Relieved, I was able to get back to work. Which, ironically enough, was writing a piece about warhead design. The effects of conflicts last far longer than you might expect. Perhaps the bombs dropped today will still cause problems three-quarters of a century from now, when people have forgotten what the battle was all about.

6. 1944: The July Plot

Shortly after the D-Day invasions in the summer of 1944, a clique of disgruntled German officers launched a campaign to assassinate Hitler at his “Wolf’s Lair” command post in Prussia. At the center of the plot was Claus von Stauffenberg, a dashing colonel who had lost an eye and one of his hands during combat in North Africa. He and his co-conspirators—who included Tresckow, Friedrich Olbricht and Ludwig Beck—planned to kill the Führer with a hidden bomb and then use the German Reserve Army to topple the Nazi high command. If their coup was successful, the rebels would then immediately seek a negotiated peace with the Allies.

Stauffenberg put the plan into action on July 20, 1944, after he and several other Nazi officials were called to a conference with Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair. He arrived carrying a briefcase stuffed with plastic explosives connected to an acid fuse. After placing his case as close to Hitler as possible, Stauffenberg left the room under the pretense of making a phone call. His bomb detonated only minutes later, blowing apart a wooden table and reducing much of the conference room to charred rubble. Four men died, but Hitler escaped with non-life-threatening injuries𠅊n officer had happened to move Stauffenberg’s briefcase behind a thick table leg seconds before the blast. The planned revolt unraveled after news of the Führer’s survival reached the capital. Stauffenberg and the rest of the conspirators were all later rounded up and executed, as were hundreds of other dissidents. Hitler supposedly boasted that he was “immortal” after the July Plot’s failure, but he became increasingly reclusive in the months that followed and was rarely seen in public before his suicide on April 30, 1945.